WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Man Like Mobeen, now streaming on Netflix.
British television, whether it’s Sky One, Channel 4 or the BBC, has always had unique takes on Islamophobia, a problem which has plagued Europe over the last two decades. However, in Man Like Mobeen, it’s handled in the best way possible thanks to how the show uses its dark comedic edge to then ramp up the issue as the series gets more serious when gangs, drugs and the law enforcement of Small Heath, Birmingham, all collide over three seasons.
Man Like Mobeen usually addresses sociopolitical issues in humorous fashion, which started with Guz Khan depicting the title character, Mobeen, in his web series as a funny gangster trying to reform and break stigmas. But these stigmas aren’t just that of at-risk youth like himself who embarked down the wrong path; he also wants to remove the idea that Muslims are threats in Britain. And while Khan’s Mobeen keeps it cheeky and punchy, it’s still very profound, evoking memories of how Comedy Central’s Chappelle’s Show deftly called out American racism in the 2000s.
Here, there are a few instances where Mobeen gets to really wade into the topic, the first coming when he gets arrested at a white supremacist rally for allegedly throwing a thermos at a racist speaker. His sister, Aqsa, did it, but Mobeen takes the rap and is locked in a police jeep by Officer Harper with the man until the rally ends. There, Mobeen shows the man despite him being labeled an Islamic threat, they love the same thing: culture such as art and food, etc. They relate on so many levels, the man starts to empathize with Mobeen, but as usual, when they’re let back out, he forgets how Mobeen tried to save him during an asthma attack, and resorts to his hateful ways.
It’s also seen in his season during Mobeen’s experience at a funeral with the mother of a high-school friend. The woman’s angry a Muslim knocked her daughter up and left her, unleashing racist rhetoric that sadly reflect the perception of some. But Mobeen handles it cooly, simply breaking down the problems by appealing to people’s human side and showing them a lot of what they’re angry about happens across many religions and ethnicities. It pops up again when he has to school a white rich guy in a hospital for being racist, reminding him Britain has so many foreigners working in the health system. What makes all this so appealing is Mobeen is subtle, hilarious and he makes sense without being too preachy. Take it or leave it, he has more important things to do than harp on bigots, as he’s Aqsa’s lone guardian.
When he ends up in a drug deal gone bad in the season’s final arc, Mobeen has to warn Harper hitmen are coming for him, and handcuffs the cop to himself during golf. The frustrated officer has no choice but to follow Mobeen into the woods and they bond, breaking down why there’s the perception cops hate Muslims and vice versa. Harper admits he was a criminal as a youth himself, and assesses in an ’80s style buddy-cop road trip the good and bad cops out there. It’s clever writing and paints Harper as an ally despite him antagonizing Mobeen for three seasons.
It wasn’t because he was Muslim, it was because Mobeen was just wayward. And with Harper growing up poor and also looked down on, he and Mobeen forge a pseudo-friendship as Mobeen helps him escape the assassination. This style of narrative doesn’t give haters a platform and through engaging conversation, it stokes discussions on both sides with Harper making it clear his force won’t stand for hate. It’s risky because there’s a chance of painting bad cops as people to sympathize with, but ultimately, the show pulls it off well by making Mobeen’s crew so earnest and likeable. They encourage you to connect with their ambitions and culture, and accept people for the the warmth and kind inside them.
Man Like Mobeen Season 3, starring Guz Khan, Tez Ilyas, Dúaa Karim and Tolu Ogunmefun, is now streaming on Netflix.
In its three seasons thus far, Guz Khan's gangster-comedy series, Man Like Mobeen, handles Islamophobia in the best way we've ever seen on TV.